Easter, Passover and the Bittersweet Taste of Choose-Your-Own-Holiday

Why is this night different from every other night?

a) Umm…we’re not having leftovers?

b) It isn’t–I just like saying that because it proves I’m a little Jewish

c) It’s still Passover, silly–now pass me a chocolate-covered matzoh

d) All of the above

When I started blogging regularly about 14 months ago, all the writers-blog gurus agreed on one thing: Never EVER blog about politics or religion. “You want to reach out to people, not alienate them.” Right. Right. Totally.

Except talking ABOUT religion is not the same thing as talking religion, if you see what I mean. And here we are in the middle of our country’s two major spring holidays, and I’m feeling a little…wistful.

(orig. image courtesy FLIKR creative commons)

(orig. image courtesy FLIKR creative commons)

Trying to get a handle on this feeling, I wonder: is it because my kids are grown and launched and I have no one to hide eggs for? How I LOVED doing that! Learned a few tricks along the way, like:

  • put the chocolate eggs out at the last minute or the crows will get them (or the slugs, but I really don’t want to talk about that)
  • re-hashes of egg hunts, staged in the living room for several days after Easter, are just as fun as the real thing, even with empty plastic “eggs”, proving that it’s the hunt, not the candy, that fascinates my kids
  • if you don’t mind getting sticky, Peeps can be re-shaped into dinosaurs
(orig. image courtesy FLIKR creative commons)

(orig. image courtesy FLIKR creative commons)

Sure do miss those days. But they are LOOOONG gone. And my wistful feeling is pretty recent. So I wonder: am I envious of my friends around the country who are inviting me to Passover seders? The Mate and I used to have them, starting before we had kids. Since we’re not Jewish, this takes a little explaining.

(orig. image courtesy wikipedia)

(orig. image courtesy wikipedia)

First of all…OK, yes, I am Jewish by heritage–at least Jewish enough for Hitler, as I used to tell my students. My German grandma, my Oma, was Jewish, and when her husband’s job brought him to the US in the 1930s, and then he died right before WWII broke out, she made the decision to stay. If she had gone back, I probably would not exist.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this. Oma (who lived with us) was not a religious Jew, and she did not raise my dad that way. He never had a Bar Mitzvah. No one spoke of Judaism in our household with any sense of connection that I, as a child, could pick up on.

There were all these clues, of course. Oma made braided bread–she didn’t call it challah, but that’s what it was. She fussed and guilt-tripped like the Jewish grandma she was. And then there were our cousins in Israel that no one ever bothered to explain to me. I grew up thinking we were “just German.” And right around the time I became old enough to start asking questions, my Oma was killed in a car accident.

As I slowly took in the reality of my heritage, I became interested in some of its ceremonies. That’s when a college roommate, raised Quaker like me but converted to Judaism, showed us how to hold a seder. We were enchanted by its message of hope and survival and, above all, insistence on inclusive justice. “Always remember YOU were a stranger in a strange land.”

Of course, not being “real” Jews, we felt free to treat the ceremony as irreverently as we wanted. One year when we couldn’t find a shank bone for the seder plate, we made one out of Legos.

(orig. image courtesy wikipedia)

(orig. image courtesy wikipedia)

I miss those days too. When our boys hit high school, one declared he was no longer interested in religious ceremony. We joined another family’s seder for awhile, and then we moved to this island, where, if I wanted matzoh, I’d have to take the ferry to the mainland and drive some miles to find a store that even knew what it was.

Plain old yearning for the past when my kids were young and close by–that I understand. But I think there’s a little more going on right now, when I drive past the church and see the purple drape over the cross. Raised in a household where the highest religious ceremony was holding hands for a moment of silence before dinner, I think I’m a little envious of those for whom these yearly rituals have real power. I can sit in on a friend’s seder. I can attend a friend’s Easter mass. But they aren’t MY ceremonies, and they won’t be. I would be lying if I said I wished they were, but I’m not lying when I say that those who do “own” these ceremonies have something that I don’t have.

Can you miss something you never had? I don’t know. 

Interested to know your thoughts on the role of ritual in your life, especially this time of year. Please share.